Crowds in hundreds of cities around the world gathered Saturday in conjunction with the Women’s March on Washington. JAN. 21, 2017
The Thirteenth Amendment forbade slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
Crops stretch to the horizon. Black bodies pepper the landscape, hunched over as they work the fields. Officers on horseback, armed, oversee the workers.
To the untrained eye, the scenes in Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary, an Atlantic documentary filmed on an old Southern slave-plantation-turned-prison, could have been shot 150 years ago. The imagery haunts, and the stench of slavery and racial oppression lingers through the 13 minutes of footage.
The film tells two overlapping stories: One is of accomplishment against incredible odds, of a man who stepped into the most violent maximum-security prison in the nation and gave the men there—discarded and damned—what society didn’t: hope, education, and a moral compass. Burl Cain, the warden of Angola Prison, which is in Louisiana, has created a controversial model for rehabilitation. Through work and religion, they learn to help each other, and try to become better fathers to their children on the outside. Perhaps the lucky few even find redemption.
But there is a second storyline running alongside the first, which raises disquieting questions about how America treats those on the inside as less than fully human. Those troubling opening scenes of the documentary offer visual proof of a truth that America has worked hard to ignore: In a sense, slavery never ended at Angola; it was reinvented.
Some viewers of the video might be surprised to learn that inmates at Angola, once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement. Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens. How is this legal? Didn’t the Thirteenth Amendment abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in this country?
Read more at The Atlantic
In the prison’s cramped cells, hallways, and psych wards, sounds and visuals subtly shame the unjust.
By Shane Bauer in Mother Jones
There is a question that every prisoner ponders once the realization sets in that his freedom is gone: Can the mind be liberated when the body is not? It’s been a while since I’ve asked myself such a thing—I was released from an Iranian prison three years ago—but a Chinese dragon in a former prison factory at Alcatraz makes me think about it again. Its multicolored face is baring its teeth at me when I enter the cavernous room. In this space, prisoners washed military uniforms during World War II.
The dragon is the first of many installations in the art exhibition by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, called @Large. The beast is a startling greeter—its whiskers are paper flames—but the impression softens as I look closer. The long body, shaped like a traditional Chinese dragon kite and suspended by strings from the ceiling, snakes gracefully throughout the open factory floor, illuminated by the soft afternoon light spilling in through a multitude of little windows. Bird-shaped kites are suspended throughout the room. It is quiet. This prison room feels like freedom.
There is more to it. Every segment of the dragon’s long body is painted with flowers from countries that seriously restrict the civil liberties of their citizens, such as Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. Other parts of the dragon are adorned with quotes by prominent dissidents. One is from Ai Weiwei himself: “Every one of us is a potential convict.”
Alcatraz is an appropriate place for an exhibition about political imprisonment. While the island’s tourism literature focuses on hard-core criminals like Al Capone and the Birdman, it has also held hundreds of nonviolent political prisoners. Hutterite pacifists were put in solitary confinement here for refusing to serve in the military in 1918. World War I conscientious objector and anarchist Philip Grosser spent part of his year and a half on the island in “The Dungeon” where he subsisted on bread and water in complete darkness. Jackson Leonard was sent to Alcatraz in 1919 after distributing Industrial Workers of the World literature on an Army base. World War II veteran Robert George Thompson did time there in the early 1950s after joining the Communist Party USA.
Read more at Mother Jones
By Dora Hasan Mekouar in Voice of America
Instead of imploring the world to “give me your tired, your poor”, the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message might well have been “as-salamu alaykum”, the Arabic greeting used by Muslims around the world.
That’s right, the world’s most recognized symbol of freedom and the American dream, was originally intended for Egypt, which ultimately rejected it for being too old fashioned.
The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.
“He was inspired by the Sphinx and the pyramids and the idea you could create something massive that could almost be eternal,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, who brings Bartholdi’s quest to life in her book Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.
Mitchell was motivated to write the book after coming across Bartholdi’s diaries at the New York City Public Library. That’s when she first realized the iconic symbol wasn’t a gift from France as many Americans believe.
“In fact, the true story is more moving because what you have is this individual artist who had a vision and he really wanted to make this happen,” Mitchell said, “and he really had to go through every machination to get this thing built.”
After his failure in Egypt, the artist shifted his attention to America, which was prospering after the end of the Civil War.
“Maybe no other country at the time would understand the excitement and importance of having this bigger-than-life, colossal symbol,” Mitchell said.
Read more at Voice of America
Image via The White House
New York auction of post-war and contemporary art gives Sotheby’s its biggest take yet
Art collectors dug deep into their pockets on Wednesday and smashed records for a second straight night as Sotheby’s held the biggest auction in its history, led by a record-setting $105 million (€78 million) work by Andy Warhol.
The auction of postwar and contemporary art totalled $380.6 million (€283 million) and set new auction records for major artists Cy Twombly and Brice Marden.
Of the 61 lots on offer only seven failed to sell. The total was just shy of the $394 million high pre-sale estimate and marked the auction house’s second solid success in a row after it scored with a $290 million sale of Impressionist and modern art a week ago.
The sale’s expected highlight far exceeded expectations. Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Doubled Disaster), from his seminal death and disaster series, soared to $105,445,000 including commission, 50 per cent higher than the late pop artist’s previous auction record of $71.7 million.
Sotheby’s did not disclose the buyer, who was bidding by telephone. It had estimated the nearly 2.7m by 4.2m work from 1963 to sell for “in excess of $60 million” but that figure turned out to be the opening bid.
Read more at The Irish Times
After years of vilifying him as a flamboyantly gay, liberal propagandist, conservatives are now claiming SpongeBob SquarePants as their hardworking, anti-food-stamp hero.
On Monday, November 11—almost two weeks after the nation’s food stamps program was slashed by $5 billion—Nickelodeon is set to air “SpongeBob, You’re Fired!” in the United States. (The episode aired in Greece in July.) After the beloved sea sponge loses his job at the Krusty Krab in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob slips into a slovenly depression. His friend Patrick, a starfish, tries to teach him the benefits of “glorious unemployment”—as in free time and free food. “Unemployment may be fun for you, but I need to get a job,” the determined and eager SpongeBob tells Patrick.
And with this, conservatives found themselves a new star. “‘SpongeBob’ Critiques Welfare State, Embraces Self-Sufficiency,” the Breitbart headline reads. “Lest he sit around idly, mooching off the social services of Bikini Bottom, a depressed SpongeBob sets out to return to gainful employment wherever he can find it,” Andrea Morabito wrote at the New York Post last week. “No spoilers—but it’s safe to say that our hero doesn’t end up on food stamps, as his patty-making skills turn out to be in high demand.”
Read more at Mother Jones
BEIJING — A wood sculpture of a larger-than-life man’s head whose gaping mouth is stuffed with a plug — a piece of Chinese protest art from more than 30 years ago — was supposed to be a star attraction at a retrospective here.
The startling visage, called “Silence,” born as a cri de coeur against the censorship of the period after the Cultural Revolution in China, was shown briefly during an artistic spring in Beijing in 1979 and 1980, before being banished.
Even today, says the creator of the work, Wang Keping, who lives in exile in France, his signature sculpture is too hot. “Silence” is notably absent from the exhibition of his works from his years abroad at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in the fashionable 798 Art Zone in Beijing.
“If it were part of the exhibit, there would be no exhibit,” Mr. Wang said as he showed a visitor dozens of dark-wood abstract sculptures, some of them hinting at the bodies of men and women, made in his studio outside Paris.
These newer pieces, including two towering black sculptures that in style and shape faintly recall the heads on Easter Island, proved acceptable to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture. The bureau must see in advance the number and subject of artworks imported for exhibits.
The Chinese authorities were in fact never given a chance to judge “Silence” anew.
Read more at The New York Times